In confronting the difficult question of whether to endorse or oppose Clarence Thomas's nomination for the United States Supreme Court, the NAACP faced a painful choice between principle and pragmatism.
On the issue of principle, there can be little doubt that were Thomas a white man with the same record he has compiled in his private and public life, the NAACP would be fighting the nomination tooth-and-nail.
On the pragmatic side, there is the virtual certainty that if Thomas is defeated, the next nominee would be just as conservative as Thomas -- and not black. In between the poles of pragmatism and principle lies also the trembling hope that once he attained the security of a lifetime appointment to the court, Thomas just might remember his own struggle up from black poverty, and could never entirely forsake those who still labor in that social quagmire.
After delay and much anguish, the NAACP yesterday voted to oppose Thomas. But that is not the end of the matter. If the Thomas nomination should be rejected by the Senate, then it follows that the NAACP must gird for an even greater battle to block confirmation of any subsequent nominee who might be just as conservative as Thomas, but not of his background. Indeed, it's conceivable that the day will come when the NAACP and kindred groups will have to mobilize their friends in the Senate to block every nominee until President Bush accepts a consensus that there are already enough Constitution-wrecking judges on the Supreme Court, and it's time for the appointment of reasonable moderates.
But there is a middle course which may yet be taken. Now that the NAACP has made its opposition to Thomas known in a clear, principled statement, the organization could simply let the vote on the nomination proceed apace without exerting the political muscle that had to be put forth to defeat Robert Bork three years ago. That way, principle could be preserved -- and we could pray that Thomas might in time become mindful of his debt to organizations like the NAACP, and judge accordingly.